I love Martin Prado. For that reason, I love this game, in which he defeated the Phillies, basically single-handedly. And no, I don’t mean like, “he hit a homer in the eighth in an otherwise-scoreless game.” He had a lot of work to do, and he did it.
The gist: Prado’s hits tied the game in the third and fifth. The Braves carried a 3-2 lead into the eighth, but Mike Gonzalez gave up back-to-back two-out homers to John Mayberry and Pedro Feliz. Not to worry: Prado immediately tied the game with his third hit of the night. Two innings later, his fourth hit walked the Braves off.
The set-up: The 2009 Braves really didn’t look like they were going anywhere. After hovering around .500 for most of the season, they lost five in a row in mid-June, and then endured another four-game losing streak that was snapped right before this game. All that losing put them in fourth place, five games out, with a 35-40 record. The Phillies were in a better place, but it was solely because of their April (11-9) and May (17-11), as they also stumbled in June (11-14 coming into this game). That stumble included a six-game losing streak and a 2-11 stretch that was only snapped with back-to-back wins coming into this game. Still, the Phillies led the East by 2.5 games with a 39-34 record.
The pitching matchup in this game was very whatever. Derek Lowe was essentially starting his sojourn through mediocrity in 2009, with a 110 ERA-, 87 FIP-, 103 xFIP- to this point, more or less alternating decent and poor starts. The Phillies were starting Joe Blanton, who was awesome in Oakland but immediately far less awesome after he was traded to Philadelphia. Blanton had an fWAR/200 above 3.0 as an Athletic, but managed just 0.3 fWAR in 71 innings post-trade in 2008, and had started his first full season in Philadelphia with a weak 120 ERA- and 115 FIP-, though at least the 91 xFIP- suggested it wasn’t all terrible. Being super homer-prone to start the year was really dampening his effectiveness.
Since this game was all about Martin Prado, he’s worth mentioning here too. Prado got limited shots in 2006-2007, and wasn’t really any good in his first 100 PAs. By 2008, Prado was playing fairly well, but having trouble cracking the lineup despite essentially an average performance with good hitting and below-average defense. In 2009, he couldn’t get a starting job at first, but by mid-May, the Braves started to get his 147 wRC+ (in just 50 PAs to that point) into the lineup more regularly. Coming into this game, Prado was not really killing it (0.5 fWAR, 108 wRC+ in 149 PAs, basically an average performance), but this was still pretty good for a lineup that featured five players (out of eight!!!) playing worse than Prado despite getting more PAs. (Jeff Francoeur, Jordan Schafer, Garrett Anderson, and Kelly Johnson were all below replacement by this point in the season.)
How it happened: Both pitchers had a fairly easy time of it early on, as the first six batters all made outs. Prado, batting second for the Braves, grounded to short in the most routine way possible.
Lowe’s second inning could have been a disaster, as a five-pitch walk to Jayson Werth was followed by a Greg Dobbs deep fly to center that Gregor Blanco was able to catch up to but not catch. In this case, though, the walk-to-set-up-a-double-play paid dividends, as Carlos Ruiz hit one to Chipper Jones at third for an easy 5-3 double play. Blanton had a similar adventure with a similar result. With two outs, Casey Kotchman singled, and Francoeur followed with a poked double into the right-field corner. The Phillies walked Diory Hernandez to bring up Lowe, and he popped out to short on the first pitch.
Where the Braves’ two-out rally failed, the Phillies turned theirs into the game’s first run in the third. Shane Victorino and Chase Utley hit back-to-back singles, the latter on an annoyingly-perfect hit-and-run that turned a double play ball into a single. A Ryan Howard ground-rule double drove in Victorino for the game’s first run:
With Werth flying out, it was time for the game to just become a series of opportunities for Prado to stick it to the Phils. Blanco started the bottom of the third by rolling one past Howard and zipping around the bases for a leadoff triple. Prado, who so often took the first pitch, swung at it and followed with a clean single into left and his ubiquitous bat flip; the game was tied after just three Blanton pitches in the third, though the Braves got nothing else.
Lowe and Blanton both followed with scoreless fourths. Lowe gave up a one-out single; Blanton’s inning started with two baserunners as Utley slipped when trying to field a Kotchman grounder and Francoeur bounced one to left, but he kept the Braves off the board. Though, it could be said, the Braves kept themselves off the board, as for some reason, Hernandez bunted ahead of Lowe, who struck out for the second out, and Blanco hit one to Utley for the third out.
In the fifth, the Phillies did some damage. With one out, Victorino hit one off Lowe’s backside; Lowe recovered to throw him out, but was definitely in some pain afterward. Two pitches later, Utley delivered a different kind of pain:
But, again, a deficit just meant Prado’s time to shine. On the second pitch of Blanton’s fifth, he tied it once again:
Chipper followed with a single that Jimmy Rollins couldn’t handle at short, Anderson sliced one to left, and Kotchman followed with a walk to load the bases. Francoeur then hit a weak bouncer to Utley that resulted in the only non-Prado run of the night for the Braves, allowing Chipper to jog home. After another intentional walk to Hernandez, Lowe once again popped out with the sacks packed. Blanton wouldn’t come out for the sixth, having thrown 93 pitches in five frames. It was essentially the type of outing that had plagued him since the trade — a homer, three walks to three strikeouts, and very little positive to show for his five innings of work.
It would have been nice to say that once he got a lead, Lowe could cruise for an inning, but he definitely did not. With one out, Dobbs walked, and Feliz singled. With two outs, a wild pitch moved both runners up, but Lowe’s final pitch of the game was a great slider to pinch-hitter Chris Coste that drew a whiff. Lowe’s outing was nothing to write home about either — a 4/3 K/BB ratio, a homer allowed, and 10 baserunners in six innings and 103 pitches. Still, he left with a lead.
Blanco greeted Phillies reliever Chad Durbin with a single, and for some reason, Prado bunted him to second. Two groundouts neutered that potential threat, though the latter was at least a slow-motion robbery at third by Feliz that just barely retired Brian McCann. Eric O’Flaherty worked a lightning-fast, six-pitch top of the seventh. The second out in that inning came on a ball that bounced off O’Flaherty’s leg to Prado, who completed the play for the out. Durbin’s second inning of work was perfect.
In the eighth, with L-R-L due up, the Braves went with Mike Gonzalez, part of their closing tandem. The first part worked okay, as Gonzalez got Howard on a first-pitch flyout, and then struck out Werth. But, pinch-hitter John Mayberry came in to hit for the lefty-swinging Dobbs, and, well, that didn’t work out as well for the Braves:
And then it got even worse, as Gonzalez stayed in to pitch to Feliz:
But, hey, Prado was due up in the bottom half of the inning, so you know what that means...
Real good setup man Ryan Madson came on to try to preserve the lead, but was no match for Prado in this game. Madson got the first two outs, but then walked Blanco on five pitches. With Prado at the plate in a 1-2 count, Madson then whiffed a pickoff throw, scooting Blanco to second. That’s when Prado struck again:
Madson then intentionally walked Chipper before giving way to J.C. Romero, who got McCann to pop out to end the inning.
The other half of the Atlanta closing tandem, Rafael Soriano, breezed through the ninth, giving the Braves just their third clean inning of the game. Former Brave Paul Bako somehow hit one the other way to the warning track, but Blanco hauled it in for the first out. In the bottom of the inning, Romero got the first two Braves and then left the game for Chan Ho Park, who was still kicking around as a swingman. This game was actually Park’s 36th birthday. Park came in to face Francoeur and got him to fly out to right to send the game into extras.
A marathon, this game was not. Boone Logan came on to face Utley and Howard, retired the former, and yielded a single to the latter. The Braves swapped Logan for Peter Moylan, who did his job, getting Werth to turn a 3-1 count into an inning-ending double play. Or, rather, he set up Chipper to do his job:
Park stayed in the game for the bottom of the 10th, but with Prado lurking, the Phillies were doomed. Park struck out Hernandez, but Matt Diaz (who had come in for Anderson as a part of a double-switch with O’Flaherty) ripped a single past Rollins. Blanco then sprayed one to left, letting Diaz take third and moving up on the throw. The Phillies could pitch to Prado, or walk him, and pitch to Chipper. Yeah, they chose the former. Prado made them pay:
Game MVP: Probably one of the silliest choices made in this entire series. Prado had a whopping .627 WPA in this game, which is what happens when you tie the game three separate times and then walk it off. While this was not Prado’s highest WPA game ever, it was his highest of his (then short) career to date, and one he wouldn’t top until 2013, i.e., this was his highest-WPA game as a Brave.
Prado got a more permanent starting spot in the lineup a few days after this game, when Kelly Johnson hit the shelf. He responded by putting up a 113 wRC+ from there on out, which brought his season line to 119 given his very strong, partial start. He finished with 2.5 fWAR in 503 PAs, which was fourth on the team by season’s end, behind both Braves catchers and double play partner Yunel Escobar.
Game LVP: Mike Gonzalez. Sorry, Mike. You can’t allow back-to-back homers to turn a 3-2 lead into a 4-3 deficit and escape this designation unless something wild happens. 2008 was Gonzalez’ best (and last) season as a Brave, the only one in which he was fully healthy, which netted him 0.8 fWAR.
Biggest play: Not the walkoff hit, but rather, Prado’s game-tying double off Madson in the eighth.
The game, in context of the season: This win was the first of a sweep of the division-leading Phillies, creating a weird situation in the standings where the Braves were, post-sweep, 38-40 and just two games back, yet still in fourth place. It didn’t really last — after running their winning streak to five games, they lost three straight and found themselves basically back where they started, five games back (and still in fourth place). While the 2009 Braves actually went on a really good roll between July and September, nearly making the playoffs and finishing with 86 wins (they may have, had they not lost their last four games of the season), the Phillies did the same and left the Braves in the dust, because while the Braves had a 16-11 July, the Phillies went 20-7. Despite one team finishing with 86 wins and one team ending with 93 and winning the NL pennant, the Braves actually took 10 of 18 from the Phillies in 2009, not losing a series to them until August (at which point they lost all the remaining series with them).
Derek Lowe was pretty blah in 2009, his first year as a Brave, finishing with 2.0 fWAR. It was his lowest total as a starter, ever, and his overall lowest total, even including his early-season relief years, aside from his rookie season in 1997 and a swingman year in 2001. Blanton actually improved in the second half of the 2009 season to creep up to 2.1 fWAR on the year. He got worse (and sometimes injured) from there, making his career one where he had more fWAR (10.7) in his first three seasons than in the rest of his career (10.1).
TC Commentariat Zeitgeist: Most of the discussion around this game was around the Martin Prado versus Kelly Johnson partisans. Johnson was good in a half-season in 2005 and in 2007, and was solid in 2008, but was fading fast in 2009. His injury a few days later made this debate moot, but it was definitely a heated one in TC’s early days.
Anything else? Randomly, this was the first time the Braves beat the Phillies at home since 2007. The two teams had only played in Philadelphia in 2009 until this game, and the Braves went 4-14 against the Phillies in 2008, getting swept in all three series at Turner Field.
Blanco went 3-for-4 with a walk in this game, and was second only to Prado in contribution to the Braves’ cause. Yet, he was only added to the lineup after Nate McLouth was scratched. Blanco barely played in Atlanta in 2009, and was fairly horrible when he did (-0.3 fWAR in 48 PAs), but this was one of his two good games as a starter of the season. He was dealt to Kansas City after just a handful of PAs for the Braves in 2010.
In 2009, Jimmy Rollins had his worst year offensively, and overall, since 2003. He still finished with 2.5 fWAR, but with just an 85 wRC+. Through this game, Rollins had a 45 wRC+, which is pretty awful considering that it was halfway through the season at this point. He’d been even worse in June, with a 23 wRC+, and capped it with his 0-for-5 performance in this game.
Chan Ho Park took the walkoff defeat on his birthday. Garrett Anderson also turned 37 on the day of this game.
Baseball is dead to me, tell me something else cool about June 30: In 1908, this was the date of the Tunguska event, the largest “impact event” in recorded Earth history despite the fact that no impact crater appears to have been created.